Silver Hunting: Caveat Emptor

By , November 20, 2015

For the past several posts I’ve discussed tips on acquiring silver (start with Silver Hunting for a Less-Than-Ideal Future). To close out the series, I’ll share a few miscellaneous tips I’ve picked up along the way.

All of these may be found online from myriad sources, most of which conclude by warning you that you’ll get ripped off completely, and likely be publicly shamed for it, if you don’t buy their exhaustive guide on the subject, or subscribe (for a “reasonable” fee!) to their newsletter, etc.

I’m just a guy. I may not give you the most authoratative advice here, but I’ll do my best.

The soundest advice here, as in all transactions, is caveat emptor: buyer beware. It seems all too likely to pay too much for real silver, or buy something that isn’t silver at all. The former appears far more likely than the latter, but it’s possible to further reduce whatever risk may exist.

If you’re buying from a broker, educate yourself (from several different sources, not just the broker you plan to deal with!) on such terms as “spot” and “ask” price. Don’t expect to buy silver from professionals at the current exchange rate. I don’t know it well enough to explain it here; this is why I look for silver secondhand!

The previous posts describe makers marks and other indicators required by law. Apparently, there’s very little fraud in this area; unless otherwise noted, it doesn’t seem worth worrying about for a casual collector.

Having said that, one does see reports that fake “sterling” silver bars have come out of China in recent years. That’s worth knowing, and considering, although I’ve made no real effort to prove or disprove this accusation.

Unfortunately for the online buyer, the best way to tell if an item is truly silver or not is to touch it.

Silver conducts temperature very quickly and well. In fact, silver is apparently the best conducting metal of all, both temperature and electricity. This means that it will either feel noticeably warm or cold to the touch, depending on the situation. If one can handle the item, one may easily change the temperature of a silver piece quickly by warming it in one’s hand, or touching it to a cold metal object or window pane. Some people carry a fountain drink with ice as they shop, and test silver by placing an ice chip on it. It will inevitably melt the ice in short order if it’s real silver.

This sounds wet and sticky, so I avoid it. However, I guess I’ve played with my small hoard of silver often enough to literally “feel” if silver is real or not with a fair amount of certainty. It’s not just the temperature, but the weight. Real silver feels heftier than silver plated metals.

And you thought Scrooge McDuck swam in his money vaults simply because he was a crazy old miser!

If you research the topic, you’ll find other ways of chemically identifying silver, or employing scratch tests, but these seem far too inconvenient and destructive for a casual silver hunter. Better to feel your way through the subject, as it were. If I purchase silver secondhand, it’s always at such an excellent price that I can afford a certain level of uncertainty. I find that the more I look, the better I’ve become at recognizing real silver when I see it. I imagine you’ll find the same true for you should you decide to try it.

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